Continued from Part 3

This is the fourth of six parts:

On return to Cotonou, the immigration officials didn’t need to stamp his passport, because Boomi hadn’t crossed immigration in Morocco. His luggage was lighter by one large bag, which presumably had gone on ahead to Montreal. There wasn’t much of value in the bag anyway, just those clothes he’d been wearing for the last few months. And the blanket he’d brought for the Canadian winters — that he wouldn’t need anyway in Benin.

Rajeesh still didn’t want the men to become upset or start to think that the plan was doomed. He told Boomi to say that the glitch was caused by not having an invitation letter. They’d be angry if they started to doubt Rajeesh, and there was no need to generate mistrust or skepticism. The money had been paid and the plans were still firm, in spite of the distress caused by Boomi’s return. Just look at all their African friends who were willing to help them!

Emil from the French Embassy was another who took pity and showed concern when Rajeesh told their story. Emil said exactly what Boomi wanted to hear: no problem, I can arrange everything for you.

Boomi had been out of touch with his father and brother for months but knew that they couldn’t pay the interest on his borrowed money. Only Rs 50,000 of the money for this venture was his own and the remaining Rs 775,000 was borrowed from moneylenders at 5% interest monthly. Siva, the recruiter back in Tamil Nadu, had promised that they would earn C$10 an hour at the fish processing plant in Canada. That would bring in Rs 120,000 a month, which would cover the monthly interest of Rs 38,750 and pay off the loan within a year. If Emil had the solution, he was Boomi’s man.

Emil offered two proposals. Plan A would be to use a passport from Guatemala, a small country in Central America. Boomi said “don’t like that idea”. Everybody would know he’s not from Guatemala. They’d only have to ask a few questions and they’d know. He didn’t even know what language they speak in Guatemala or what the people look like there. Emil said it would be simple to find out this information from the Internet, learn the capital city, and memorize a few street names. He’d use a different, Guatemala-sounding, name. Boomi knew enough about other countries to know that you can’t learn a few street names and impersonate someone of another nationality. He knew how different the Hindi-speaking Indians are from the Tamil speakers in the south, and how utterly impossible it would be for him to attempt to disguise himself as someone from Maharashtra or Gujarat, let alone Uttar Pradesh or Rajasthan. They have their outlandish language like laundry hanging from the washing line, so unlike the elegant swirls and curls of the Tamil script. There was so much that Boomi didn’t know about his fellow Indians, how could he know anything about the Guatemalans?

Emil’s plan B was to issue Boomi with a passport from another African country. The white people in the West feel sympathy for Africans who regularly suffer famine and deprivation, political turmoil and unrest, strange tribal customs and Muslim atrocities. If Boomi had a passport from, say, Angola, they would be duty-bound to accept him out of pity and compassion. He had been in Benin now for months and Angola was not so far away.  Separated by only the big Congo, the smaller Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Cameroon, and Nigeria, they were practically neighbors, and culturally quite similar, Emil assured him. Most importantly, Angola still issues the old style of passports, with handwritten information and without barcodes. Emil advised sending one man first to try out the idea.

Again everyone wanted to be the first to try this new plan but the group decided that Boomi who had had the most travel experience, albeit without success, should give it another try. Reflecting on the two days he’d spent under the eye of the police in the Casablanca airport detention room and the possibility of jail, Boomi wasn’t pleased to be the chosen one. He agreed to this one last attempt only because he was angry and frustrated back in the jail-like house in Cotonou. Either send me to Canada or send me back to India, but don’t leave me here, he told Rajeesh.

The new passport arrived shortly in Emil’s triumphant briefcase. It looked like a passport on the outside with the Angolan emblem displayed on the front, but the inside pages were completely blank, like a notebook. Emil and his friends wrote all Boomi’s details in by hand, as is the fashion of Angolan passports: Boomi’s name, his birthday, his father’s name, the city of his father’s birth in India. They briefed him about his family background explaining that his father had come to Angola to work as a young man, had a wife sent from his native village, together they had children, but sent them all to the grandmother in Tamil Nadu to be educated. His childhood and education in India would account for his lack of familiarity with Angola and his ignorance of French (actually, the colonial language in Angola is Portuguese). The name of a few hospitals, schools, cities, and roads would be sufficient to give the story credibility.

Emil then sent the passport to Nigeria for all the necessary chops, or so he said. The passport looked genuine even if the chops, Boomi suspected, came from Emil’s pocket and not from embassies and High Commissions in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. At least this one did not have a fraudulent Canadian visa because according to Emil, Angolan passport holders are among the few who can enter Canada without a visa. Boomi put his Angolan passport in his back pocket, trod upon it, worked the pages enough to make it look used.

More supporting documentation was produced for the journey: an Angolan driving license, and to quell the Canadian fears of HIV and AIDS, medical reports to show that Boomi was free of these terrible threats, as well as malaria, and hepatitis A, B, and C. All without testing his driving skills or drawing a single drop of blood.

Tamils love comedy and drama, with steady torrents of conversation rapidly punctuated by gestures and facial expressions. Tamil movies cater to this craving by showing men with bulging bellies and bushy mustaches tripping and falling in classical slapstick humor. The women in movies react with alarm and exasperation while the men tangle themselves in ridiculous situations. Boomi recalled this popular genre of movie when he considered Emil’s latest plan, except that now, he was the leading figure in his own reality show.

To be continued.